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Transportation

Tokyo-Nagoya maglev train line's 2027 opening cast into doubt

Shizuoka governor says high-speed rail project 'can't be approved'

Japan's futuristic maglev train project runs into environmental concerns.

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Central Japan Railway Co.'s plan to open a high-speed maglev train line between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027 was thrown into doubt Friday, as Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu did not approve the start of preparatory construction work.

During the first meeting with the governor of the central Japan prefecture, Shin Kaneko, president of the train operator also known as JR Central, sought Kawakatsu's consent to launch the work.

But the governor, who met the press after the meeting said, "It can't be approved."

JR Central's failure to overcome local opposition due to environmental concerns is likely to make it even more difficult for the company to achieve its target year for operation of the Linear Chuo Shinkansen service, with a top speed of 500 kilometers per hour.

During the meeting at the Shizuoka prefectural government office, Kawakatsu said that while he is not opposed to the project itself, "We have to consider how to strike a balance between the Linear and the environment."

"It's regrettable that I was not able to obtain confirmation," Kaneko told reporters following the meeting, which the prefectural government, in a rare move, streamed live on its website.

JR Central wants to start preparatory construction work for a section of the line in the prefecture, but the work has been delayed by local concern over the project's impact on the flow of a river.

The company has said that if the preparatory work does not begin this month, it will be hard to commence operation of the new bullet train service between Shinagawa, the Tokyo terminal for the service, and Nagoya, capital of the Chubu region of central Japan, as scheduled.

Under the current plan, JR Central intends to excavate a mountainous area in the prefecture known as the Southern Alps to build a tunnel for the shinkansen.

But local farmers are concerned that the construction work would cause underground water to flow into the tunnel and, as a result, reduce water flow in the Oi River, which passes through the central part of the prefecture known for its tea and oranges.

In response, JR Central has said it will take steps to restore the water to the river, including setting up tunnels and pumps.

In an attempt to ease the stalemate, the transport ministry, acting as a mediator between the two sides, established a panel to discuss the matter.

Following the opening of the new high-speed train system, JR Central plans to extend it to Osaka in a second phase of construction.

The new system will connect Tokyo and Nagoya -- two of the country's major metropolises that are located 286 kilometers apart -- in 40 minutes, less than half the time of existing shinkansen train services.

The project is viewed as a second high-speed link for the country's three key metropolises -- Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka -- as a backup for when the existing shinkansen line becomes obsolete or is damaged by a major earthquake. There will be no Linear Chuo Shinkansen station in Shizuoka Prefecture.

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